On June 17, 2009, Thales Alenia Space announced its first contract with Orbital Sciences Corporation (now Northrop Grumman), for the design, development and production of nine pressurized cargo modules (PCM) on Cygnus resupply vessels for the International Space Station (ISS).
Thales Alenia Space has supplied cargo modules to Northrop Grumman since the start of the Cygnus program. The first contract in 2009 provided for the delivery of nine modules, while a second contract in 2016 added nine more. Eleven operational PCMs plus a demo have been launched to date, four in the original version and eight in the enhanced version.
Cygnus: a lifeline to astronauts since 2013
Designed to transport supplies (food, water, spare parts, scientific experiments, etc.), Cygnus resupply vessels play a vital role for astronauts on the International Space Station. The Cygnus spacecraft has evolved over the last few years into more than just a dedicated cargo carrier.
For instance, in 2015, a Cygnus carried a key scientific experiment, designed to test 3D printing technology under zero gravity conditions. The spaceborne portable 3D printer was used in the ISS to make a small object from polymer materials: a European first! The Cygnus hosted a series of three Spacecraft Fire Safety Experiments, or SAFFIRE, developed by NASA to study flammability and fire propagation under zero gravity conditions with the aim of improving crew safety.
New improved Saffire experiments are planned to fly on the new fleet of future PCM modules. Continuing to support “zero g” scientific experiments that cannot be done elsewhere, ESA astronaut Paolo Nespoli tested PERSEO (PErsonal Radiation Shielding for interplanetary missiOns), a special radiation protection vest, and ARAMIS (Augmented Reality Application for Maintenance, Inventory and Stowage) during the #VITA mission in 2017.
40% of the ISS built by Thales Alenia Space
The PCMs are built by Thales Alenia Space in Turin for prime contractor Northrop Grumman. Thales Alenia Space designed this module by capitalizing on its experience in making orbital infrastructures for the International Space Station. The ISS actually holds a special place in the hearts of Thales Alenia Space engineers based in Turin. Thales Alenia Space has supplied fully half of the pressurized volume on the ISS (40% of the entire station), including Nodes 2 and 3, the Multipurpose Module (MMP), Multipurpose Logistics Modules (MPLM), Cupola, Columbus lab structure, the pressurized cargo module for ATV resupply vessels and the structure for the Bishop commercial airlock from NanoRacks.
As NASA shifts its priorities to sending astronauts to the moon, it is opening the International Space Station for commercial business, agency officials announced on June 7.
By providing expanded opportunities to manufacture, market and promote commercial products and services via the International Space Station, NASA hopes to catalyze and develop the space market for many different businesses.
“For Thales Alenia Space the NASA decision may represent a great opportunity for the commercial exploitation of the product and services that can be derived or developed from the existing company portfolio,” said Walter Cugno, Vice President, Exploration and Science at Thales Alenia Space.
Beyond the ISS
Thales Alenia Space is gearing up for lunar missions, in particular with the LOP-G (Lunar Orbital Platform Gateway), and is carrying out design studies for NASA (as part of STEP 2) and ESA. Furthermore, following the success of the IXV atmospheric reentry demonstrator, Thales Alenia Space is developing Space Rider, Europe’s new-generation, low-orbit, reusable space transport system.
Photos copyrights: ©Northrop Grumman - ©NASA - © ESA/NASA - ©Thales Alenia Space/Master Image Programmes - ©ESA/Thomas Pesquet